In December 2003, the Kentucky 511 service expanded its traffic, construction, and weather information system to include information on special events, local points of interest, restaurants, and lodging in the southern and eastern parts of the state. A public-private partnership was formed to expand the service. The Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association and its private sector partner collaborated to define the system requirements, implement upgrades, and measure impacts on customer satisfaction.
Prior to the deployment of the expanded service, callers were limited to the information provided by an automated voice recognition system that was sometimes slow to respond. The expanded 511 service provided callers with additional support. Callers could speak directly with system operators and receive detailed information related to travel planning. In order to provide this level of service, operators were equipped with an advanced database search tool that enabled them to quickly target information related to each caller's information request.
To evaluate customer satisfaction, all users who accessed the system were invited to participate in a follow-up telephone survey. Between June 2005 and March 2006, researchers from the University of Louisville Urban Studies Institute (USI) conducted interviews with 600 of the 824 callers who agreed to participate.
The average number of calls to the 511 Tourism Service increased from 1,145 calls per month in 2004 to 1,814 calls per month in 2005. The most dramatic increases occurred during the tourist season (June to October). Discounting seasonal demands, 511 roadside signs and billboards had the greatest impact on increased call volumes, followed by television and radio advertising. Referrals and repeat callers also contributed to the growing popularity of the 511 tourism service.
Respondents were mostly residents of Kentucky, and of these, 91 percent lived within the program's coverage area (42 counties). On average, respondents used the service twice. Nearly one-third of respondents used the service between 2 and 5 times.
The survey results indicated that user satisfaction with the 511 Tourism Service was high. Ninety-four (94) percent of all respondents indicated that they were very satisfied with the answers and information that operators provided. Overall, the findings indicated that the system was beneficial to those interested in exploring their own region. The highest percentage of callers requested information about special events, followed closely by those requesting information on directions and lodging.
The Eastern Kentucky Rural Highway Information Project involved establishing a 511 Premium Tourism Service Package. In 2006, Kentucky was only the second state to offer tourism related services through its 511 Travel System, placing the state in a position to offer insights gained from the project to other states considering the implementation of a similar program. Lessons learned from Kentucky's experience with launching and managing a multicounty tourism information system will be invaluable. To that end, this study reviewed the activities undertaken during launch and early operations of the Southern and Eastern Kentucky 511 Tourism Service, and conducted a survey of users in an effort to gauge public use and receptiveness to this service. This report offers lessons learned during the start-up phase of the project pertaining to institutional issues, technical issues, and public-private partnership issues. In addition, a survey was administered to 600 users of the 511 Tourism Service, in an effort to gauge current public sentiment about the service as well as discover additional features users would like the service to offer in the future.
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